Ever have the sinking feeling that something you did turned out very, very badly? African American media mogul Sheila Johnson has. At an art festival in Carmel, Calif., this past weekend, one of the founders of Black Entertainment Television (BET) said the network’s current content reinforces negative stereotypes of blacks in the U.S.
Co-founder Sheila Johnson’s comments as she spoke at the “Conversations and Encounters” program at the Carmel Art and Film Festival.
Johnson said her proudest achievement with BET was producing the live show “Teen Summit,” which brought together dozens of youth from the Washington, D.C., area to discuss issues of the day, from violence to teen pregnancy. The show ran from 1989 to 2002.
“All of those young people on the show became so successful because they had a voice,” Johnson said. “And we were talking about issues out there and they became leaders in life.”
The Johnsons sold BET in 1999 to Viacom. Since then, Sheila Johnson has been very open with her disdain for the network.
Her biggest gripes are with music videos that reinforce negative stereotypes of young people, African-Americans in particular.
“I think we’ve squandered a really important cable network, when it really could have been the voice of Black America,” Johnson said. “We are losing our voice as a race (as a result).”
“I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don’t watch it,” she said. “When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news… I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up… And then something started happening, and I didn’t like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists…and we had to start showing them. I didn’t like the way women were being portrayed in these videos.”
Viacom paid Johnson and her former husband $1.3 billion in the BET acquisition—making them, pre-Oprah, the nation’s first African-American billionaires.
Johnson is currently the team president and manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.